And in the death, as the last few corpses lay rotting in the slimy thoroughfare, the shutters lifted an inch in temperance building - high on poacher's hill - and red mutant eyes gazed down on Hunger City - no more big wheels - fleas the size of rats sucked on rats the size of cats, and ten thousand peopleoids split into small tribes, coveting the highest of the sterile sky-scrappers - like packs of dogs assaulting the glass fronts of Love Me Avenue, ripping and re-wrapping mink and shiny silver fox - now leg warmers - family badge of sapphire and cracked emerald -
Any day now, the year of the Diamond Dogs.
This ain't rock 'n' roll
This is genocide!
Lyrics to Future Legend written by Bowie
Thus began Diamond Dogs, David Bowie's seventh album, and his first since 1969's Man Of Words, Man Of Music (which was subsequently renamed Space Oddity after that song became a massive hit) without the aid of Mick Ronson, as he had sacked the Spiders From Mars in 1974. It was also the first album to be credited to just "Bowie"; he dropped his first name, just to show how popular and famous he was. Without his backing band, Bowie played most of the instruments himself; and in Ronson's absence, Tony Visconti did most of the arrangement for the songs, as well as producing the album. Most of the songs from the album were originally destined for a planned musical version of George Orwell's 1984, but when his estate refused permission, Bowie came up with the Diamond Dogs concept instead.
All tracks written by David Bowie, unless otherwise indicated.
- Future Legend
- Diamond Dogs
- Sweet Thing
- Sweet Thing (reprise)
- Rebel Rebel
- Rock 'n' Roll With Me (David Bowie/Warren Peace)
- We Are The Dead
- Big Brother
- Chant Of The Ever Circling Skeletal Family
As far as I'm concerned, Diamond Dogs is among Bowie's most influential, and best, albums. Listening to it, and reading the lyrics, it's obvious how much influence it's had on the likes of Morrissey and Brett Anderson; Brett in particular, as Suede's second album Dog Man Star is very similar to Diamond Dogs not only in name, but in music and its theatrical nature.
Most of the songs on the album sound like "concept album" songs; both in structure and in tone. It's a property I can't really describe, but there is a certain something about songs written for a concept album - as Major General Panic suggested, they do tend to be more thematic and narrative; but their weakness is that they don't sound as good out of context. Examples of such songs that spring readily to mind are most of Pink Floyd's The Dark Side Of The Moon, or Burning Sky and Little Boy Soldiers from The Jam's Setting Sons. In my opinion, Rock 'n' Roll With Me and Rebel Rebel were probably written seperately from the rest of the album; most of the rest of the songs were probably written for the planned 1984 musical, and then Future Legend and Diamond Dogs were written for Bowie's replacement concept, the Diamond Dogs.
Future Legend opens the album, an apocalyptic spoken-word piece which segues nicely into the title track. Diamond Dogs, the song, is a fairly complex piece of work, musically; especially the drumming. Aynsley Dunbar, a session drummer who also worked with Lou Reed on Berlin, does an excellent job; I'm informed by a drummer friend of mine that the chorus of Diamond Dogs is exceedingly difficult to play, as the drum-beat falls out of step with the rhythm of the music, and then back in again. Listen to the track, and you'll hear what I mean.
The next section of the album is a three-part medley, although it's not noted as such on the sleeve. It consists of Sweet Thing, Candidate, and Sweet Thing (reprise), and listening to the album, it's quite difficult to tell where Candidate starts, unless you're watching the track number on your CD player. Reprisals are another feature of concept albums; the most obvious example being on Sergeant Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band. Candidate's closing line is really quite Morrissey-esque, IMHO; "We'll buy some drugs and watch a band/And jump in a river holding hands". The whole thing is kinda melodramatic, and slightly overwrought in parts; I can imagine this song being quite early in a musical, where the male lead meets the female lead for the first time.
Rebel Rebel is the next track, and it's one of those excellent rockers that Bowie excelled at during the early seventies, cut from the same cloth as the likes of Ziggy Stardust or The Jean Genie, and having a gender-bending theme: "You've got your mother in a whirl/She's not sure if you're a boy or a girl". Rock 'n' Roll With Me is an example of another Bowie archetype; this time the kinda cheesy, 50's-Americana-style ballad he does at least once on most albums. Other examples of this would be Drive-In Saturday off Aladin Sane, or Life On Mars? from Hunky Dory. I'm not suggesting that these are bad songs, but they tend to be a bit overblown for my taste.
We Are The Dead, track 8, is something of a slow-burner, and for me it conjures up images of the drug-numbed zombie proles of your standard dystopian future. I imagine this track being a choral work, with Bowie singing the lead vocal while the rest of the cast sing the title over and over. It's followed by 1984, which, musically, sounds like a cross between something from a daring 60's musical and chase music from a 70's cop show. It's an effective, fast-paced song, though, with great string arrangement from Tony Visconti, and it was later covered by Tina Turner, on her 1984 album Private Dancer.
Finally, we come to Big Brother, and Chant of the Ever Circling Skeletal Family. Big Brother is another kinda slow-burning song, and kinda reminds me of Moonage Daydream off The Rise And Fall Of Ziggy Stardust And The Spiders From Mars. Its chorus ("Some one to claim us, some one to follow/Some one to shame us, some brave Apollo/Some one to fool us, some one like you/We want you big brother") obviously mirrors the end of Orwell's novel, where Winston has been brain washed, and joins the croud in cheering Big Brother. The last track is just a chant, set to a repeating rocky break; I can't help picturing the lights dimming as it plays, and then coming back on again when it ends, and the cast all bowing for the croud.
Although it met with quite conflicting opinions when it was released, I think Diamond Dogs has withstood the test of time well. Its concept may be pretty cliched nowadays, the music still sounds exciting to my ears. The sleeve for the album caused some controversy when released, as it depicted Bowie lounging on a stage, with the upper half of a man, but the hindquarters of an obviously male dog. It was the sight of a canine penis that offended more than anything else.
Two sets of reviews of Diamond Dogs.